The impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic really started to hit everyday life here in the UK in March 2020. Since then the effect on our working and personal life has been immense for a huge number of people and one aspect that continues to be severely affected is leisure activity.

Restriction of travel opportunities, especially for going abroad has caused people to look at the UK as holiday destination, the so-called staycation. Other people started looking even closer to home at their own locality and started exploring it by simply walking around. Not only is this is interesting (I personally discovered a lot more about where I lived by simply walking more in my locality) but good for your health.

Many of us have rediscovered the wonders of going for walks and exploring local and more distant areas within the UK. Our country is well designed for urban and rural walking routes and there is a mild blowing amount of wonderful walks and routes to suit all ages, interests and capabilities. Apart from some basic relatively cheap equipment (for example, decent clothes and footwear,) and access to some excellent books, magazines or websites to find these suitable walks; walking is a very cheap and yet healthy pursuit. So how do you find interesting and relevant walking routes which are suitable for your abilities? The answer is relatively easy and so read on.

Walking apps and books

A simple and low-tech solution is to look at books of walks and you can obtain digital or physical versions. There are plenty around and the majority are relatively inexpensive and come with good suggestions and they usually contain clear and understandable maps often accompanied by detailed instructions. However, some books can be variable in quality and quantity of walks and some maps and instructions are not always clear.

The better books can be a mixture of one-off local books, books as part of a series or books of countrywide or more regional walks. These books can often be found in specialist outdoor shops, standard and small bookshops or general stores in areas of natural beauty. Equally these books can also be found online in popular places such as Amazon.

An excellent book that contains a good selection of countrywide walks is The Times Britain’s Best Walks by Christopher Somerville and he also writes a walking route column in the Times Newspaper on most Saturday editions. I like the Pathfinder book series, which is a collection of excellent guides that cover a substantial amount of the country. Equally as good is the collection of walking guide books from Cicerone, and again their series covers most of the country. Each of these books series tend to concentrate on a specific area. If I find a good walk from any book, then I photocopy the specific walk and take a paper copy with me in that case I ruin the book when it rains!

There are some excellent walking and country magazines that cover the UK and you can subscribe or purchase individual copies. A cheaper way of accessing the digital editions of just a few of these magazines is to use an app like Readly.

Don't get lost

For many people this would be sufficient, but technology has given the leisure aspects of walking and finding suitable walks in a specific area, a big boost. It is well worth giving technology a chance to help you enjoy safe walking even more. For example, in the unlikely event you need to summon help on a walking trip (you could be lost or injured) then by using the what3words app, you can tell people precisely where you are, so that you can be rescued.  

Following maps and directions can sometimes be tricky, especially when remote paths suddenly disappear, or the map or accompanying directions are not clear in a particular segment of the route. For clearer navigation, I use the outstanding Viewranger website and the accompanying app on my phone. The basic operations of this electronic offering are free of charge but they are highly functional and chosen routes are searchable from within the site. However some walking (or cycling) routes may cost a modest amount but many are free to the end user.

Once loaded on to your phone via the website, these walking routes will come with a map and a sat nav type interface with an arrow that will point you in the correction direction (once you start the walk) with great precision. The app also comes with a compass and generates other useful statistics about your walking activity. I have found this app superb and makes walking in strange areas much easier and makes me less likely to get lost. So far, I have not needed to buy any premium functions but some of them look good.

Even better, you can import GPX files (these are generic files that can create a walk with GPS-Global Positioning System) and from other websites into Viewranger (this website also has its own significant collection of GPX files as well) and you have a world of satnav type walks on your phone. Often my wife and I will go for a leisurely walk with one of us following the paper map with directions and other information (such as the history of the area) whilst the other uses Viewranger. Using apps like Viewranger can eat up battery power on a phone and quickly deplete the charge, especially on a long walk. So, I tend to carry with me a small, light and portable powerbank in my rucksack, just in case I run out of power on my smartphone and I can charge my phone whilst out walking.

I have mentioned previously, The Times Britain’s Best Walks by Christopher Somerville book and website of walks where many of his walks are stored along with a map and directions and sometimes there are GPX files for some of the walks. This is all free of charge and there is no need to purchase the book or register with the site.

It may come as no surprise that there are a huge number of websites which contain free walking routes, maps and some may offer GPX files for you to download and import into for example, Viewranger (there are other apps that can do the same function).

I have listed here are just a few examples of really useful websites. Note some contain free content whilst others may require a payment.

Dr Harry Brown is a GP, Leeds and medical editor, GM Journal